Brave New Business World: The Story of Fairtrade

The last brick had been laid and the island was now complete. Hooray! The lights went on and everybody cheered. Bottles uncorked and music rang out. In gaiety they celebrated the foundation of their new homeland.

They had come from all corners of the western world; leaving behind their old homes to settle into a new life on this fertile land of good weather, beaches and green pastures. Most of them were economic migrants of a new breed. They were not fleeing violence or war, but rather they were fleeing oligopoly economies in which small independent businesses could no longer survive.

The inhabitants of this new island were supporters of small independent enterprise. Many of them had been entrepreneurs and small business owners in their native countries. Crushed by impossible operating costs and dwarfed by giants like Starbucks, Amazon and Lidl, they had come to this new land with a vision of fair trade, fair competition and creative reproduction. They had named this island Fairtrade.

Fairtrade was about the same size as Northern Ireland and within just a few months it had been developed into a modern constitution of towns and villages, roads and railway tracks, schools and shopping centres. On the day that it was founded it had a population of 668,888; a mixture of men, women and children. The new inhabitants had built the island together themselves, and they were looking forward to living there harmoniously for the foreseeable future.

The capital city of Fare was where the most excitement abounded. Fare and it’s metropolitan suburbs had a population of 300,000+. Fare City had the most wonderful offering of cafés, restaurants, beauty salons, nightclubs and every other business you could think of. Concentrated in Fare City were some of the island’s most inspiring minds, most notably; Ryan Burns the flamboyant owner of Xpressicanos, Mary Harte owner of Little’s convenience store, Chris Handley who owned Savers (retail outlet), and brothers Rick and Martin Cash the Directors of Lending Brothers Banking Institution. Coincidentally these legends of Fairtrade operated on the same street – the vibrant Ormy Road. Like all traders on that lengthy street they got to know each other on friendly terms, frequently doing business with one another.

Xpressicanos jumped off the Ormy Road to catch your attention, stimulate your senses and invite you inside. The external appearance of this wonderful cafè was dazzling. Colourful and adorned in ornaments it sparked more excitement than a Las Vegas casino. An appetising smell of coffee became entangled with a sweeter fragrance as one trespassed through the entrance. Deserts that looked irresistibly seductive made mouths water. They did a fine lunch menu; the seats were comfortable, the music smooth and the ambience just right. Opening hours were greater than any other cafè on the island, 06:00 – 23:00 every day all year round. Their social media activity was immensely popular too.

Everybody loved Xpressicanos. People talked about it, people frequented it, and so it wasn’t long before Ryan Burns (owner) opened up another Xpressicanos in a high footfall area on the other side of the city.

Exercising awesome marketing skills attracted the customers to Ryan’s cafés, but it was his brilliant personality that helped him retain those customers. Ryan was often on-site in his own cafés; putting in the elbow grease himself, managing his staff and interacting with his customers. Many people that frequented Xpressicanos got to know Ryan. He was known as a remarkably nice guy. He was camp, he was a dog lover, kind, charismatic and funny. He became a media personality on the island. He was trusted and admired.

Months after Fairtrade was founded everything was going well. Traffic hummed through the little towns and cities. People went to work, paid their bills, went home to their families, socialised, and lived a rather decent life. There was a great sense of equality on the island and yet a great sense of diversity. Fairtrade was, well, fair. It was fulfilling the ambitions that it had been predicated on.

As life hummed on the island there was one little convenience store on Ormy Road that started doing really well. Littles – owned by Mary Harte – opened as a little corner shop selling fizzy drinks, ice-pops, tobacco, groceries, newspapers and scratch cards. The groceries at Littles were distinctive like no other, and they changed from week to week too. This created a buzz about Littles. One could buy fillets of venison one week and the next week they’d be replaced by goose. In keeping with the laws of Fairtrade Littles’ products wore a special label that proved they had been sourced locally. Importing certain products was of course illegal on the island of Fairtrade.

Mary lived frugally; she had no children, she didn’t go to parties, she didn’t go to fancy restaurants. Her frugal lifestyle and financial prudence helped her save plenty of money. She thought it would be a great idea to expand her business, so she did just that. She moved her business to a bigger site and increased her variety of stock. She invested all of her savings back into her business, expanding again and again. In 18 months Littles had grown from a small corner shop into a fabulous supermarket offering everything from electrical appliances to toiletries, all at a remarkably good price.

Success stories like Littles and Xpressicanos gave encouragement to people near and far. If they can do it so can we, that was the attitude that people adopted. The opportunity for success and fairness, and the balanced economy of Fairtrade made it a very intriguing place to people from all over the world.

In time Fairtrade experienced a surge in immigration. Waves of migrants relocated to the island with dreams of finding a wonderful new life there. Consequently a need for more housing arose, and so housing developments sprang up all over the island. The building industry boomed. Everything was going well. Everything was great, but, strange things were happening.

The cost of property started skyrocketing. Of course this was triggered by the heightened demand for housing, but it posed a problem because wages remained fairly stagnant across Fairtrade. However this problem was quickly resolved by the innovative intervention of the Lending Brothers.

Lending Brothers was one of two banking institutions servicing Fairtrade. When property prices started skyrocketing they invented a trendy solution to all troubled house hunters. They called their invention the B25 Gold Package; in simple terms B25s were loans that were made available to almost anyone that wanted them. B25 loans could be repaid in monthly instalments over the entirety of a borrower’s lifetime. Although the B25s specified that interest rates were subject to change dramatically at the lender’s discretion, people gobbled them up with relish. Everybody that ever landed in Fairtrade went straight to Lending Brothers and they borrowed money to invest in property and business.

Yet despite all the amazing excitement and optimism of Fairtrade, things eventually became unbalanced. Many businesses started closing down while the likes of Xpressicanos and Littles kept expanding. People started running low on money. People started panicking. People started worrying. On top of all this people fell behind on their B25 repayments, and then the interest rates went up.

Then one day there was an utterly bizarre discovery on Ormy Road.

Savers on the Ormy Road became the source of shock and horror when a customer accidentally uncovered a child labour sweatshop in the basement. Savers was a discount-price retail outlet selling generic clothing. They were one of the businesses that achieved questionable success in Fairtrade, opening a chain of outlets across the island.

One of the core tenets of doing business in Fairtrade was that all merchandise had to be ethically sourced and produced through the exchange of fair wages. In running sweatshop factories whereby children were paid in breadcrumbs, Savers were in gross breach of the law. Upon discovery of horrific sweatshops, Savers’ owner – Chris Handley – was nowhere to be seen. The discovery of Savers’ sweatshops triggered a large scale investigation into other suspicious businesses on the island.

It came to light that Ryan Burns had progressively watered-down his products and had been doing so for a long time. His coffee was mostly made of sand that he sourced from the beach. What started out as real beef burgers had degenerated into compressed leftovers that he sourced from trash cans belonging to other hospitality outlets. He sold his customers trash and got rich from doing so.

Littles were breaking the law too. Mary Harte who was sweeter than sugar, she had been importing most of her stock from cheap markets in blacklisted countires, and then pawning it off as “locally sourced.” It was all illegal and she got away with it the whole time. As for the Lending Brothers who had lent out hundreds of millions in mortgages, as soon as the property market crashed they hiked up their interest rates. Their B25 customers were stuck repaying those overpriced loans for the rest of their lives, and there was no way out of it because the Lending Brothers had the support of an exclusive global legislative body.

In the end Fairtrade collapsed into chaos. Resources dried up. Almost everybody went bust. The island sank into a dire state of poverty. Yet amidst the chaos rose an infectious orator who promised to fix all the problems. He won the hearts and minds of all Fairtradians. He very quickly became president, and when all this was happening, the highest performers of Ormy Road (Ryan Burns, Mary Harte, Chris Handley) were already settling into their new home on another faraway island of tax free euphoria.